National Basketball Association star Ray Allen is asking Congress to go into the fourth quarter to beat type 1 diabetes, the potentially fatal disease that afflicts Allen's six-year-old son Walker and three million other Americans.
Allen, fresh off helping his Miami Heat winning the NBA title in June, is testifying Wednesday before a Senate committee asking that special funding of type 1 diabetes research be restored as a multi-year appropriation, instead of the single-year outlay that the federal government began making in recent years in the face of tighter budgets.
"We're in the process of doing so many great things, there's so many chances out there of doing research, so much new innovation and technology," said Allen, whose family has to closely monitor Walker's blood sugar day-and-night and give him insulin.
But the 10-time All Star guard said that research can get stopped "right in its tracks" when funding isn't guaranteed over multiple years.
"I can't win a game in three quarters. You have to play four quarters in basketball," noted Allen, 37, whose son's diagnosis at the age of 17 months came just days before his then-Boston Celtics team sealed the 2008 championship with a Game 7 victory. "We've got to make sure we can have a cure one day."
Allen is lobbying Congress this week on that issue of consistent funding with a group of celebrities who have type 1 diabetes— including 1999 Miss America Nicole Johnson, 10-time Olympic swimming medalist Gary Hall Jr., IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball—as well as 150 kids with the disease including Walker Allen.
Congress since 1997 has funded the Special Diabetes Program that targets research on the type 1 form of the disease, which is frequently diagnosed in childhood.
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Since 2004, the annual appropriation for the SDP has been $150 million—which augments other spending on type 1 and type 2 diabetes-related efforts by the government.
But several years ago, the SDP appropriation was switched from approvals for three-year cycles, to just a one-year appropriation.
"That results in fewer projects," said Jeffrey Brewer, president and CEO of JDRF, the diabetes advocacy and research group which organized the lobby effort by Allen and the others. "It's constrained the National Institute of Health's ability to fund multi-year clinical trials."
Brewer noted that multi-year clinical trials that could get the green light with guaranteed funding have already lead to dramatic breakthroughs, including the new drug Lucentis, manufactured by Genentech, which has reversed diabetes-related eye damage.
Brewer, whose 18-year-old son has the disease, said that research into a cure is becoming even more critical because the incidence of type 1 diabetes "is growing very significantly over time"—an alarming 23 percent increase among young people in previous decade.
Sen. Susan Collins [R-Maine], the ranking member of the special committee on aging which is taking up the multi-year-funding question Wednesday, pointed out that both forms of diabetes are the "leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults and amputations not related to injury."
"Moreover," Collins said, "diabetes costs the United States an estimated $245 billion a year and accounts for one out of every three Medicare dollars."
Quinn Ferguson, a 14-year-old Maine boy who is testifying about the effects of the disease that he was diagnosed with in the third grade, said, "It's really expensive."
"If we get it out of the way, then we'd have a lot more money for other stuff," Quinn said.
—By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan
This story has since been modified to note the correct name of the diabetes advocacy group JDRF, which was formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation